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Phil-osophically Speaking

Bringing Home The Bacon

Things were crackling on Megyn Kelly’s Fox News program as she took to task pundits Erick Erickson, Lou Dobbs and Juan Williams about the meaning of a Pew Research Center study that revealed that in two out of five American homes, it’s mom who brings home the bacon. Megyn Kelly, a mother of two with one on the way, was sizzling over her all-male panel’s dismay about these findings and its unhappy forebodings about the future of American society. 


The exchange ignited fireworks over the highly charged subject of our rapidly changing norms of equality and diversity. The panel, essentially a conservative, a moderate conservative and a liberal, were unified in their belief that the trend was sabotaging some critical ingredient of social cohesion. Ericson saw this increasing trend as a warning that society was dissolving around us; Dobbs saw it as robbing maternal attention in those critical early and formative years of a child’s life and Williams, the lone Democrat, saw the phenomenon as another disturbing sign of the disintegration of the institution of marriage.


Kelly was clearly offended by what she saw as pure and unadulterated male bias, the one dogmatism that cannot be tolerated in a world glorifying itself upon a carousal of heterogeneity, where personal choice is sacramentally binding. Frankly, Kelly’s bare fisted assault appeared patently self-conscious; a subterfuge for whatever pangs of guilt that might surface from one balancing the demands of motherhood while single-mindedly pursuing her own high-power and profitable career. The question, however, is not whether one is offended by a particular study but whether the findings of that study are true.  Kelly’s staff furnished her with numerous studies to cite of children with working moms who are neither academically, sociologically nor behaviorally more disadvantaged than moms who stay at home. Some studies actually show that children of working moms are less likely to suffer from anxiety and depression.


There is no doubt that America has experienced a sea change from the salad days of Ward, June and the Beave back in the 1950s.

There was no gainsaying back then that the ideal and optimal family arrangement was the traditional nuclear family where the dad worked and the mom stayed at home raising the kids. This is how I and most of my generation came of age and it was affirming to see it as entirely natural. But times have changed and espousing this quaint arrangement today is to risk being put in the company of our club swinging troglodyte ancestors. Such barbarians are likely to be relegated to the Gulag of political correctness so that they will     no longer menace civilized society.


Messrs. Ericson, Dobbs and Williams felt the scorn of feminism in high dudgeon and, with maybe the exception of Ericson, were reluctant to push the envelope too brusquely as to avoid inflicting a mortal wound. But these issues must be faced head on. It’s clear that capitalism has been a breeder of so many of these sociological revolutions that sprung up in my lifetime. The amount of income required to achieve the American dream has steadily increased and has been a catalyst for driving women into the workplace. Combined with technological innovations that have manumitted the human population from the consequences of sex and the time consuming drudgery of domesticity, women have infiltrated the workforce over these last few decades like the American military hitting the beaches of Normandy.


Since the 1960s, men’s advantages in the workplace have declined conspicuously, especially non-college educated males who have suffered from the effects of an unflagging decline in manufacturing and hard labor jobs.  Women, on the other hand, are doing well in the new information economy. The upshot is that 37 percent of households have women as the primary breadwinner. What this does to the psychological wellsprings of masculinity forged by millions of years of evolution is of no concern to feminists who feel that the afflatus of male dominance in these areas should have been extinguished before it was ever conceived. 


Notwithstanding reprehensible brutalities and behaviors of the male toward the female throughout the long arc of evolutionary history, the idea of men connecting their ego to that of breadwinner has been, I would argue, beneficial for the social order. The problem of contemporary society and all its undesirable pathologies that cling to it like inexpungible grease stains, is not that men have embraced too strongly their role as breadwinner, but not nearly enough. Fathers abandoning their families in such grotesque numbers are a relatively novel rather than inveterate practice. Women have not been spared from the ruinous effects of male abdication of their traditional role as protector and provider of the family; in fact, they have along with their children been the prime victims. 


It’s one thing for the telegenic Megyn Kelly, richly compensated as a talking head on Fox, to champion the cause of feminists and working mothers, quite another for those moms who are likely to be black, Hispanic and young  making well less than half the median income of two modestly salaried working parents to fare anywhere near as well. There is a strikingly acute class divide between how Megyn Kelly’s children will be raised and those working moms who are not high-priced celebrities.  Raising these issues and questioning the conventional wisdom should not be equated to some plot to keep woman-barefoot, pregnant and slaving over the stove. I have no sympathy for those chest-thumping Tarzans who believe a women’s role in life is to to be submissive to the male; but neither do I favor silencing critics with the charge of bigotry only because it is opposed to the new world order.


I believe it’s generally a positive thing that bright and hardworking women are investing themselves into the workforce adding dimension and perspective to all walks of American life. Meanwhile, the exorbitant rise in women headed households is a catastrophe of the first magnitude whose damaging effects not only mutilate but undermine the fiber of our social order. The economic environment is not helping men meet their responsibilities. Beleaguered by the appalling complacency in Washington about job creation, many women make more than their husbands because the men have suffered chronic and protracted unemployment and are only working part time or are stuck in low paying jobs. The quest for equality is not all it has been dressed up to be.


So are we working at cross-purposes; does championing one ethos undermine the other? Equality is not a zero-sum game; its effects are wide-spread and not always favorable for all concerned.  Today, more women earn college degrees than men whose blue collar population has also been hurt by a vanishing manufacturing base and those jobs that require hard, physical labor. This is not your grandfather’s world so the best approach is to help all concerned by doing a few sensible things. We should focus on those policies that actually spur productivity (rather than government stimulus programs, that even when applied correctly afford but a bump to the economy, it cannot sustain a full-blown recovery) to help blue collar men recapture their pride and sense of responsibility. We also need to encourage two-parent families without censuring woman-headed households. George Will once noted that the dystopian culture of single parents awaits its John Wesley. Like the successful campaign against the dangers of tobacco, every ounce of suasion should be mobilized so that marriage and procreation are seen as one and the same.  The feminization of poverty and the displacement of male workers are the enemies of economic well- being and opportunity. It’s time to draft a Declaration of War.